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Archive for November, 2012

Sapa is definitively an exceptional destination, it captures your heart and very authentic hill tribes’ villages, also  enchanting surrounding nature. Transportation between Hanoi and Sapa are local bus, night bus or the train. Among all of those options, train seems to be the easiest option. Who want to give their lives to the bus driver, especially bus driver? I guess not many unless you don’t have any other option.

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I have always liked train ride to Sapa, the train journey is an integral part of your visit to Sapa – passing through the exotic landscapes of North Vietnam, between the charming cities of Hanoi and Lao Cai (train station at a distance of 34 km (21 miles) from Sapa), it offers you a wonderful travelling experience.

 

Firstly, it is important to remember this is Viet Nam, a developing country without many of the systems and processes we are used to working with in our countries. Please do not expect too much from your train level. For example there are no showers and no fine dining carriages (to be correct, there is one option) and your carriages toilet may overflow and stop working during the night. This is all part of the adventure you have signed up for.

 

With this in mind, choosing the right ticket can be very confusing and time consuming. The tourist trains currently depart Hanoi nightly at 8:35pm, 9:10pm and 9:50pm. The train journey takes around 9 hours to travel 320km from Hanoi to Lao Cai (yes that is slow, 35kmph on average) arriving in Lao Cai the following morning between 5:30am to 6:00am.

 

On average, there are  4 trains departing Hanoi for Sapa every night. Each train has 16 – 20 carriages and all of these carriages offer different classes of travel, ranging from hard wooden seats to comfortable VIP soft sleeping cabins. Let’s divide them all into 4 category: Luxury, Deluxe, Superior and Standard (prices & quality-wise). And we will give you some practical hints on each category as following:

Luxury: with its elegant carriages, the train recalls a more romantic era. The train features one dining carriage and two sleeping carriages to make your travelling experience a most comfortable one.

Train name to reference: Victoria Express Train

– No train on Saturday.

– Depart from Hanoi with dining carriage on Monday, Wednesday, Friday

– Depart from Lao cai with dining carriage on Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday

– Victoria Express Train is only provided for Victoria Sapa Resort in-house guests.

Price range: $230 – $360/cabin for round trip ticket.

Despite a lot of rules, Victoria Express still is the most luxurious option you can get. What nice about them is you are welcomed at the train station door, train staff will help to bring in the luggage and guide you to your cabin. There, you avoid the notorious and typical scam in Hanoi train station. Before departure, the train supervisor – again, will give you a brief intro about the train and restaurant carriage and nicely let you know that you can always reach him anytime. It’s nice to have someone out there to call if you need anything right? 

 And bedding, I havent stayed in any cabin that has good bedding (mattress, pillow, blanket) like Victoria. It’s almost the same with the hotel bed, just squeeze in a smaller size.

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You also can have a prescription VIP include 6 spacious compartments (one compartment area: 4.2 square meters) from Livitrans Express Train – VIP cabin, is designed with luxurious wood and courteous. Each compartment has two full beds with soft blanket, sheet, pillow, mattress standard 5 star hotel. On the desk in the chamber always travel magazines, newspapers, drinks, candy enough for you throughout the journey. Compartment has a full range of general lighting, reading lights at bedside and air conditioning system ensures cool, airy and comfortable to you. Toilets are available on each coach.

Price range: approx $155/cabins per way.  

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Deluxe: Each carriage is designed only for 6 cabins (one cabin area: 3.6 square meters). There are four berths in each cabin, two lower and two upper. The beds are soft, clean and come with a blanket and pillow. Each cabin locks on the inside for security and has a fair amount of room for luggage storage under the beds and above the door. With 4 bed fully equipped soft, decorated with natural wooden furniture, soft pillows, fresh blankets, graceful curtains and state of the art facilities, cabins are bound to bestow on passengers a nice stay with deep sleep. At both ends of each court are installing the necessary equipment such as hot and cold water, wash lavabo, toilet area and quality equivalent to the prescription and type of your class seat. Toilets are available on each coach.

Train name to reference: Sapaly Train, Fansipan, Livitrans Express Train – Tourist cabin, King Express, Tulico, Hara Train, Pumkin, TSC, Orient Express, Ratraco…

Price range: approx $80/ticket for round trip ( 4 berths sharing cabin)

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Superior:  is not wooden carriage, soft sleeper AC cabin with soft 4 berths. Or it can be a carriage with 6 beds. Toilets are available on each coach.

Train name to reference: Vietnam Railway Train, King Express or Orient Express ( 6 berths charing cabin)

Price range: approx $70/ticket for round trip ( 4 soft berths sharing cabin) and $60/ticket for round trip ( 6 berths sharing cabin)

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Standard:  soft seat or hard seat sharing carriage. Train name to reference: Vietnam Railway Train

Price range: < $60/ticket for round trip.

 

On dedicated trains also a food court selling, superior dining service needs of customers with a menu including beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea and food exports in conformity with the customers. While you walk along the train to reach to your cabins at the station, eye-out for the dining carriage, then afterward you can come up there for the drink or just simple challenge yourselves walking on a running train like an 007. And it is fun to see the locals gather here, you may have some new friends on the way. 

 

Trains will drive you through the countryside from the plains, midlands and mountainous areas to the northwest of the country. While most of the time you will fall asleep or cant see anything because it’s too dark, the early morning scene is pretty rewarding. So wake yourself up at around 5am and look out of the windows. The rural life has started and the mountain, river has appeared in front of you. 

And for bikers, please note your agent that you will bring your bike on the train, because not every train has room for vehicles!

As I am finishing this article (which I hope it is helpful to you), I remembered about my train ride to Sapa with an English friend a few years ago. And the first thing he did when he sat down in a 6 berth cabin was taking out a few little cup and a bottle of rice wine to share with other locals in the room. Cheers and welcome to the land of rice & corn wine!

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